I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ve never been on a cruise type of holiday before. One where days are spent living on a boat, travelling to different destinations, hopping on and off to take in some sights. I had visions of kids running riot, squeezing past people through small corridors and crowded tourist visits. I’ve been told some of what I imagined is in fact the reality of holidaying on cruise liners, so I’m glad that my first experience wasn’t on one of those great big ginormous boats with cinemas, ballrooms and late night discos etc. I’m not a fan of constantly being surrounded by groups (I go into diva mode when I can’t see over all the tall people) so I think easing myself in with a smaller ship was definitely the way forward.

In my last post on Egypt, I mentioned that we had flown into Hurghada and driven across to Luxor in order for us to catch our water ride. Most travel agencies can arrange this journey for you or better yet, you could fly directly to Luxor airport if you want to save yourself some time (I’ve mentioned a few other travel options at the end).

Choosing to stay on a boat as beautiful as Le Fayan was probably not the best idea. Because if this is the gauge from which we started, it’s going to take a lot to beat.

Le Fayan is a seriously good looking boat.

There’s a comfortable lounge area, spacious restaurant, gym, spa, luxury rooms, suites and the piece de resistance, a sun deck with pool, jacuzzi and outdoor dining facilities.

 

 

There are 57 bedrooms on board, and our particular trip was fully booked. There are also three luxury suites, with access to their own private jacuzzi if you fancy splashing out that bit more (if I could, I would!).

Le Fayan was even better than some of the hotels we’ve stayed at. From the moment we spotted it on the banks of the Nile, lined up with the others, we knew it was special. It oozed luxury. Our room was on the upper deck, sunset side so we were always facing the river rather than the bank (when we’re moored). In our standard room, we had a floor to ceiling window, two chairs strategically positioned facing outwards, the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. Every day we spent there, I woke up and headed straight for the curtains, throwing them back to look out and thank God for blessing Mo and I to be able to embark on such a wonderful experience. And my favourite thing of all was that it never felt crowded! There was enough room for all of us to have our own personal space as and when we needed it.

 

 

We spent a total of five nights on board, stopping daily for excursions. We started our journey in Luxor, cruising down at a steady speed towards Aswan.

Some of the sites we visited during our cruise:

  • Valley of the Kings
  • Karnak Temple
  • Komombo
  • Nubian Village

Of course each of these sites will need their own separate blog post as they actually BLEW MY MIND they were that amazing, but for now I’ll leave you with a few teaser pictures (the video highlights are coming soon 🙂 )

 

 

One of the most interesting parts of the actual cruise journey, was finding ourselves in an extremely large lock. Like a real-life English canal-style lock but on a seriously huge scale. It was bizarre. Although, I should not have been so surprised as it was in fact built by the British to facilitate irrigation of the cotton fields. I had never really thought about the logistics involved in situations like this, even though it was something I had been reading about pre-trip (later this year, I will be going on my first ever barging weekend holiday with boutique narrowboats – **I can’t WAIT for it**, where lock navigating will be a  skill I’ll pick up and hopefully become a pro at). To watch it in action, right here on the Nile, was kind of spectacular. To be stood on this large boat as it swiftly navigated the Esna lock with ultimate precision and to feel it lift up as the water rose was unnerving and fascinating all at the same time. The only unfortunate thing, was that we saw it all happen in the dark, so we were slightly limited in what we could see – but it was still special and I encourage you to head up to the top deck and watch it if you get the opportunity.

 

 

I’ve mentioned many, many times on here that there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting on a boat, gliding across the water and watching the world go by. I loved my boat trip in Mandalay, our sailing excursion in Rio de Janeiro and now I can happily add this journey down the Nile onto my list.

Riverboats allow you to get a real panoramic view of life by the banks. The views are ever changing, so different to anything you’ll see inland. Lush greenery and vegetation abundantly bloom, but that same starkness we witnessed on the drive from Luxor was still evident, further away in background. I watched people go about their daily life, washing, working, relaxing, kids playing…

 

 

Few things to note:

  • It seems that everywhere you go in Egypt, complimentary wifi access means that wifi is generally only available in reception or communal lounge areas. This goes for Le Fayan too.
  • I’m not sure if the food on board is pre-determined if you are travelling with a group – but it was probably the one part that I wasn’t too impressed with. However, this is down to personal choice – to be clear there was always a variety and the quality was great, but the menu as expected was continental/European style cuisine. Personally, I would have preferred to try more local dishes.

 

There are so many moments embedded in my memory from this trip. The first time we set sail; the time we had lunch on the upper deck; the time we spent with others on the boat; the friends we made. Our last day was extra special as many of the guests had left early doors, so Mo and I had some time to kill before catching the train. We packed in a few more sights on our own and then passed the remainder of the afternoon on the sun deck, feet in pool, basking in the sun, just the two of us reflecting on what had been a sensational holiday.

I always judge a trip on how sad leaving makes me, and I must say leaving Egypt made me very, very sad. Thanks to the trip organisers and the hospitality of Le Fayan, our first joint adventure to Egypt was one that ignited a passion and intrigue to return for more.

And when (not if) we do return, I can only hope we are able to stay somewhere as exquisite as Le Fayan.

 

 

*** Travel booking ***

There are no flights from Manchester direct to Luxor. Our options were to either transfer in Cairo, Hurghada or somewhere else – however because we had to be at Le Fayan by a certain time and date, and as we had limited time off work, the transfer flights didn’t work for us. This is why we chose to fly into Hurghada and take a car over to Luxor. Many people flew into Cairo and took the overnight train down to Luxor – this is an option I really wanted to do after my love-hate relationship with the overnight train in Bagan, and from the feedback the others gave, it didn’t sound too different!

Our tour was organised by General Tours Egypt and they did a fantastic job!

(I did a lot of research on getting around Egypt, so if anyone has any questions please feel free to drop me an email 🙂 more than happy to help)

 

 

Have you taken a cruise down the Nile? Where else would you recommend cruising? Or is not your cup of tea? 

 

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Thrifty living workshop with giffgaff, sounds random right? I know when the invite came through I thought so too. But since my adventures were pretty sparse last year due to changes in our circumstances, I thought a bit of thrifty living could come in handy so Mo and I could put more aside for some serious 2018 travel.

After justifying my reason to attend, the second peculiar thought that crossed my mind was that this thrifty living event was being hosted by giffgaff. All I really knew about the brand was that they do the best phone contracts and if you can afford to buy the phone you want outright, then their mobile contracts are fantastic value compared to other companies. But I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing hosting a thrifty living style event.

Nevertheless I was intrigued, especially as it meant I would finally be able to have a good nosey inside The Principal hotel, although I walk past it every day I have never actually been inside.

With so much happening work wise in Feb, the day soon crept up and unfortunately for me I was suffering from SERIOUS achilles ankle type pain in my left foot which got progressively worse as the morning ticked on. I hobbled on from the car park, up the two small flights of stairs to the post room at The Principal, armed with a few clothing items to participate in the clothes swap (wasn’t quite sure how that would work out but hey ho, I’m always up for trialling new things).

 

 

After greeting some new and some familiar faces, it wasn’t long before we cracked on with our workshops:

 

Cooking on a budget

Ooh it was smelling so good even before we started and it got even better as we went on! Duncan from Herb & Spice took us through a simple, cost effective, vegan friendly meal: Chickpea tagine with cous cous. I’m not going to go through it all but I’ve shared a picture of the recipe and dish below because you really MUST try it, it tasted incredible! I just couldn’t believe how something that sounded so bland (I’m sorry, but it really did) could be packed full of flavour. Duncan was brilliant at telling us the best ways to use up cupboard food, to make the most of scraps and how to incorporate more veg into dinners – something I’ve really struggled with over the last few years.

 

 

As well as showing us the tagine meal, Duncan sent us away with ingredients and recipe for a second dish: Puntalette Pasta in a tomato sauce, which I made the following day with my mum back at hers. Again it was simple, full of goodness and just like the tagine it was filling too.

 

 

Before moving on to the next session, lunch was served and even though I’d just eaten the best tagine ever, I still made room… (it was good)

 

 

Upcycled jewellery making

I didn’t quite know how this was going to work. I saw balls of some sort of wool but no equipment? Turns out you don’t need any and the balls were t-shirt scraps, how brilliant?! I love learning new craft skills such as knitting, crochet so it was nice to learn how to weave a loom style necklace chain with just our hands. Big thanks to Tea and crafting for teaching me something new 🙂

 

 

Managing your money

This was by far the biggest lesson I learnt that day. I was pretty confident that I knew a fair bit about managing money and how credit systems work. They talked us through a mini quiz/presentation and I was horrified at how little I knew. HORRIFIED. I scored 2 out of 9?!?! I travel quite a bit, I use different cards to earn points and  keep some emergency ones for that you-never-know situation when abroad but I never considered the effects it would have or how vulnerable the data I supplied would actually make me.

 

 

It was really eye-opening to receive an education into something I thought by the age of 32 I should really have known. And thats when everything started to make sense. Giffgaff gameplan is all about helping the younger generation understand financial services, make smarter choices, know exactly what information should and shouldn’t be shared. They gave tips on credit card comparison – I’m not in any way shape or form saying you need a credit card, but as I said above I do like to keep one or two with me when I travel just in case there is ever a serious situation I need to get out of. Their whole aim is to help members change their lives, using the right data to help them achieve their savings goals, giving tips on budgeting, savvy living and ways to check your credit score. In my current area of work, and pretty much everywhere else in the corporate world, data is the thing. The dangers of it, the significance of it, the positive impact of it… it’s hard to avoid at the moment. It’s pretty great that a company like giffgaff are now using it to help young people, who lets be honest don’t have it easy these days, achieve their financial goals. And they’re doing it in a fun interactive way too.

Genius.

I was really impressed and I can’t wait to look into how I can set myself goals to aim for (I’ve got plenty in mind 🙂 )

We ended the afternoon with the clothes swap, which turned out to be so much fun! I loved that this isn’t just a great way to save clothes, but what a fantastic way to be more environmentally conscious! The clothing industry contributes a heck of a lot to environmental impact, how great would it be if we had regular clothes swaps like this to encourage recycling?

Of course, I’m not a great clothes shopper, so I probably didn’t make smart clothing choices – but this wasn’t the clothes swap’s fault – this was purely down to me not being able to choose clothes that suit me, which is why I am normally chaperoned on clothing shopping trips. But hey I do love what I took and will definitely be giving them a whirl once it gets a bit warmer.

All in all, apart from the excruciating pain I was experiencing in my foot, it was a really enjoyable day. I got to catch up with some fantastic bloggers – Donna, Laura, Jess, Leanne (and others) and came away with some great lessons and food for thought (mean that both figuratively and literally 😉 )

I haven’t put everything I’ve learnt into practice just yet, but with a couple of travel goals lined up for the last half of the year, I’m certainly about to…

 

 

How do you save money for travelling? 

 

 

*** Thank you to giffgaff & search laboratory for organising such a fabulous event and bringing us altogether ***

 

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Haven’t written a travel linkup post in a while, not had a chance, but I wanted to make time for it this month. If you’re a blogger linkups are known as great tools to share content amongst others in the blogosphere. But I love them purely because it gives me a set topic to write about, something I probably wouldn’t have thought of writing otherwise. It’s a nice change from the norm and I love reading everyones interpretations from a single brief.

This months theme is all about places we can’t get out of our heads.

Where the heck do I begin?

Is there even such a thing as ‘a’ place I can’t get out of my head?

If you’ve been blessed enough to have the opportunity to travel and travel often, I can’t imagine ever dreaming about just the one place.

After re-discovering a pile of old family passports, it was quite amazing to find that I had forgotten about places I’d been and there was so much I was unaware of as a child. My mum and dad shared stories when I questioned them about that time they went to Canada, or Florida or wherever else they had visited that I hadn’t known about before now. In a bid to find out exactly how far out our travels had stretched I’ve been attempting to catalogue the number of countries I’ve been to on instagram, it’s been a stop-start situation – the main difficulty being that just choosing one photo that represents how I feel about a place is so hard. I’ve reached country 21 at the moment, I’ll carry it on once I’m back home and able to dig out more photos. But if choosing one picture is hard, how can I choose one place?

 

 

When I first moved to England, I unconsciously dreamt of Bahrain – a random but not so random dream. The vision played on repeat in my sleep for many years actually. Bahrain had been a place we visited regularly as a family, my dad would attend a yearly GM meeting out there and we would all travel with him, enjoying a break at the Meridien hotel. I have vivid memories of our time there, but my dreams were crystal clear and there was a time where I would definitely say this was the place that I genuinely could not get out of my head and had no idea why.

Where do I go on my daydreams though?

Back to Rio, one of our top five holidays, when we made it to the top of Corcovado and watched the clouds lift before the crowds ascended. Back to our trips to Europe? France, Spain, Norway, Sweden

 

 

Maybe it’s the quiet secluded beach on Tidung, part of the Thousand Islands in Indonesia where we saw turtles, ate fresh fish snacks and basked in the sunshine. Or do I cast myself back to the beautiful Veligandu resort Mo and I stayed at in the Maldives, where out on our private deck I watched, in absolute fascination, as a pod of wild dolphins flew across the horizon. Or maybe its when we got up close and personal with wild dolphins on a fabulous family holiday to Portugal last year? My daydreams do tend to take me back to a number of wildlife-inspired destinations…

Like the plains of Africa. Have I ever been able to get Zimbabwe out of my thoughts? The weeks I spent working with many different African wild species… The time I met my first baby elephant, it’s tiny trunk wrapped round my hands curiously trying to decipher what I was and how we could play. The moments I lay in the lion cub enclosures next to a 5 month old ball of fluff, whose paws flopped around as I rubbed their bellies, eyes closed as I stroked their temples and whose purrs I remember as the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

 

 

BUT then I start thinking of purring and I’m reminded of home. Especially now when I’m thousands of miles away, far from my hubby, my fur-baby, my family, who are all going through a bit of a rough time. Over the last few days home has been the only place in my head, the familiarity of being in my own city, especially as just before I flew off I had indulged in two days of touristry (yes I’ve made that word up) in Manchester as part of the #workerbeeweekender.

Looking at where I’m sat now… on a sun lounger, by the pool, 32 degree heat (😏) this is a place I know when I return to England next week, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a hard time shifting it from my mind. But ironically, Dubai has always been a destination that I have never truly understood. This place isn’t my kind of place. Yet 10 days of living with friends (adopted family) in a quiet building, away from the razzmatazz of main Dubai, doing regular things like shopping, cooking, chatting… it’s like a whole new city. I’d even go as far as to say, it feels like home and I’m sure this experience will be another place I won’t be able to get out of my head.

 

 

The one thing I’ve come to learn about travel is that there is no place that ever truly leaves me. Even the experiences that I didn’t enjoy, the ones I would never (well never say never) return to, these place still stay with me. In the past I’ve written how smells can take you back to destinations, tastes, products, people, stories… All of these things stay in my head. Just today my mum asked if there was anything here in Dubai I wanted to pick up and take home for myself and I told her the only thing I wanted was the experience. It’s all I ever need (I suppose a couple of zaatar crackers here and there wouldn’t hurt either).

Rather than focusing on past trips, I’ve recently opened an avenue in my mind that makes me constantly dream of future travels. Of the places I haven’t yet been. Greece, Iceland, Poland, Malawi, Turkey…the list goes on. Mo and I both know that the journeys we take in life are what makes us who we are and there is still so much we have to learn.

So what’s the place I can’t get out of my head?

Let’s just assume it’s everywhere that isn’t where I am.

That’s what daydreams are all about though, right?

 

 

❤️ For my cousin Hafi who is due to get married tomorrow, I pray that you and your new partner get many an opportunity to explore the world and soak in everything it has to teach you. Good luck on your new adventure! ❤️

 

 


 

Travel Linkup

The topic for April is one we enjoyed in 2015 – and we fancied it again – ‘Places we can’t get out of our heads’. (And, for those of you who’ve been around that long – has it changed for you? Link back to your old post in your new post, it’s good for SEO!)
How to link up your post

Just pop your post up, add it to the below or on the blogs of Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine and The Travels of Mrs B.

There are no rules – basically all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; make a few comments here and there and tweet a few of the posts out to your followers that you think they will love. It’s a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging love!

The Travel Link Up is open to all bloggers – as long as the post is relevant!

 

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Announcing to friends and family that we were headed to Egypt brought about a variety of reactions. Excitement, worry, intrigue, anxiety… I realised that people had very mixed emotions about our next destination.

For years the coastal cities in Egypt were holiday hot spots, especially for British tourists. Nile cruises flooded the waterway, and the tourism industry thrived from International visitors. Revolution, military coup, the downing of a plane back in 2015… all factors that shattered the leisure industry. Safety for travellers was no longer guaranteed and the rifts it caused in the economy have definitely been felt.

This became increasingly clear when Mo and I tried to book our flights to Luxor, struggling to find direct routes, decent connections or at least any flight that wasn’t ridiculously priced. I’m not going to go into the full ins and outs of the trouble we faced booking our trip, I’m saving that for another post, but I wanted to touch on a particular part of our journey: the road to Luxor.

Our flight schedules meant that in order for us to get to our boat in time to start our cruise, we needed to drive from where we landed in Hurghada to the beautiful city of Luxor. I thought absolutely nothing of this journey until I started 1) speaking to people and 2) searching the route on google.

Everybody had an opinion… and it wasn’t good. You’ll get kidnapped. The road is too dangerous. You’ll have to be escorted by military. Anything could happen. I kept telling myself not to listen to it all and tried to banish out all knowledge of what I’d read on the very ridiculous dangerous roads website, which comes up pretty high on the ‘road to luxor’ google search. I reached out to a virtual friend @DanDohertyBlog, who knew this area of Egypt well and still had friends out there. He assured me there was nothing to worry about and trusting his opinion I decided I needed to stop being influenced by propaganda and try to see it for what it is, an exciting journey across the Egyptian desert.

Lo and behold Dan and his friends were right. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. The drive was FANTASTIC.

Mo and I have done a number of long distance journeys by car in many different terrains, but we’ve never driven along a road quite like this. A road where on every turn, every dip, every ascent we were surrounded by the same landscape.

Baron. Empty. Endless. Dry.

But totally spectacular desert.

 

 

I couldn’t stop staring at it. We’d go miles and although there was nothing to see I couldn’t help but think it somehow was everything. In my head I was imagining lands in ancient times. What might have lived behind the mountains. The rocks. Who knows what relics are buried under the ground. What carvings may or may not be etched inside the caves that we only caught glimpses of as we sped past.

My imagination was running wild as I strained through squinted eyes to look for signs of life. Following the paths of birds that soared and dipped, wandering what they knew.

Our drivers, Ahmed and Hisham were pretty great. A bit nuts, but they were great. Sort of left us to our own devices as bless Ahmed, he was really trying with his English but we struggled to make heads or tails of it sometimes. On the way there and on the way back we stopped halfway for tea breaks.

 

 

It was nice to stop and stretch our legs but also to walk around and just take in how amazing it was to be in the middle of nowhere. Literally nowhere (put that ‘literally’ in just for you sis 😉).

I should also point out the best meal I had was at the last service station! We weren’t planning on having a meal, but our driver insisted we have something before we trekked on. So we ordered whatever it was they had and waited to see what turned up. Grilled chicken, rice, salad, broth with orzo and a vegetable curry dish. It tasted fresh. Light. Not overly spiced and was the perfect food for being out in the heat. I did share mine with the resident kitten (I could not resist the cute ball of fluff) but what I did have I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

 

Some facts to bear in mind if you are planning on taking this route:

  • The road is closed for any tourist trips once the sun has set. Any dangerous road issues happen at night, when people are reckless or decide to drive without headlights, which is why the government has decided to impose a curfew for visitors to ensure their safety. Sensible.
  • There are many forums with people complaining that they are unable to hire their own cars to do the drive themselves – I haven’t looked too much into this but I think there are restrictions depending on where you’re from and what license you hold.
  • Travelling in the day time will pretty much mean driving in heat. A car with AC will make a heck of a lot of difference. Opening a window doesn’t help much when the air flying in is boiling hot.

Also worth noting that of course, like most non-western destinations the driving style can be a bit, let’s say ‘different’. I noticed here in Egypt the outside lane isn’t for overtaking, but more for acting as a buffer when you want to speed around turns. Driving in the middle of the road or towards oncoming traffic to overtake is perfectly acceptable. Flying past donkey carts at close quarters is completely normal and drivers only really wear their seatbelts when they’re headed towards a checkpoint.

All of that aside, I should point out that I was in no way ever scared or on edge during our journey. The last part as you head into some of the local towns alongside the Nile are really interesting, observing the hustle and bustle of daily life.

 

 

I’m so glad I wasn’t deterred by the negativity surrounding this journey and I hope the actions of a few don’t put others off from making this trip. It reminded me that it’s so easy to get swept up in the news and random rubbish that gets fired out over the internet and that really, trusting your gut and looking at the actual facts is always the best way forward. Having a few friends on the inside helps too 🙂

My advice would always be, reach out to agencies. Travellers who have been recently – that you trust of course. Don’t always go off the news and general scare-mongering that occurs in the tabloids. Everything we do in life has some element of risk, it’s all about being sensible and listening to rules and guidelines – that applies to any destination, including where you live.

 

 

 

The road to Luxor was a great lead up to what became a truly momentous adventure as well as being a perfect final journey to reflect on our trip, before heading back home.

 

 

 

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When I mentioned to friends that my next trip was to Egypt, more often than not conversation somehow always turns to the uncomfortable feeling most westerners get with the way Middle Eastern women dress. Having lived for many years in Saudi Arabia, I always wondered whether I may be slightly biased in my acceptance of it. I’ve grown up surrounded by women in black abayas, in beautifully draped headscarves, some with veils across their faces… was growing up with it as the norm the reason I don’t understand their perception of them?

I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s rights over the last few weeks and I’ve realised that no, I’m not biased at all. I am simply in a position of better understanding. I don’t mean that in a patronising way, but simply that as a Muslim myself I have had insight alongside my life experience, so I thought maybe it was time I tried to dispel a few myths.

 

Modesty in Islam

Before we get cracking I want you first of all to push aside any preconceptions you may have regarding your opinion on certain countries, cultures or governments – what I am going to talk about here is the practice of modesty in Islam. And in its essence it’s really, really simple.

The book of Islam, the Qur’an, has written:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their chests and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…” [continuing list of others whom women are exempt from covering] Qur’an 24:30-31

I think the first thing to note here is that the mention of modesty applies to both men and women. There is nothing in this quote, or anywhere else for that matter that is implying in any way that women are to dress differently because they are the lesser sex. Because they are inferior. It’s nothing to do with them being pushed aside, being told to stay home or to be kept in the dark. In fact if you study the history of Islam there are many, many strong independent women who play crucial roles in the times of our sacred Prophet (Pbuh). In fact many of the women in his life were active members of the community and modesty was never confused with disappearing from the social, political, economic or even military departments.

All over the world there are millions of Muslim women who have made a conscious decision to dress modestly, not for their culture, not for a man, but for themselves. To feel closer to God. Many of these women have managed to excel professionally in many fields of work, whilst upholding their values of modesty. There are thousands of women in the UK alone who choose to wear headscarves and this number grows every day, women who are wanting to show their devotion to God and for some its as much an outwardly expression of their faith as it is an inner.

Now i’m not a religious scholar so I’m not going to go into the details of what modest dress entails and what its requirements are, because these are interpreted differently depending on the adherents school of thought. But the main point to note, is that modesty is something that is down to the individual. It is not something Muslims do for others – it is something Muslims should do for themselves.

 

A woman’s right to modesty

These days modest dressing is increasing in popularity, and not just for Muslims. In some instances modest dressing has become a way to empower women, a way of ensuring they are known for who they are, to not be judged by their beauty or how they look. In some cases its a tool to help them be taken seriously, a show of level pegging and a way of demanding respect. I’m not saying that not dressing modestly does the opposite of these things, but merely pointing out reasons why women I know who are not followers of Islam choose to cover their bodies. Their reasons for wanting to dress modestly are just as valid and just as powerful as women who choose not to.

‘Modest fashion’ is a growing market, it’s become increasingly popular over the last few years, with many female Muslim icons leading the way, such as Blogosphere cover girl Dina Tokio. Last year I attended the very first London Modest Fashion Week at the Saatchi Gallery, organised by Haute Elan – a great success and an event attended not just by Muslim women.

 

 

Some women interpret modesty not as a way of dressing, but as a way of conducting their mannerisms. Let’s not forget modesty is a character trait, one that is considered flattering and again not just exclusively for women. It’s a principle of being unassuming and moderate, but not invisible.

There are times when it’s an issue of self consciousness, what if a women does not want to show her body? What then? Do we automatically assume she is being forced to cover? What if it’s a fashion statement? With an intense spotlight cast onto our gender the reasons women choose to dress modestly are vast.

 

Respecting cultures and traditions

Because of the so-called ‘freedoms’ most of us believe we have in the West, it’s very easy for us to judge other places where the rules of what is and isn’t socially acceptable aren’t what we’re used to. But to put it quite bluntly, we cannot apply the principles of western european secularism to other countries whose entire cultural tradition is completely different. It’s simply not a fair comparison. And even where secularism is prevalent, there are still unwritten rules and expectations as to how women should dress themselves, when going for a night out for example.

If we aren’t citizens of a particular country who may expect modest dressing, then yes have an opinion, discuss your grievances but it’s not our place to be making a stand against their rules and regulations because we don’t feel it’s right. There are proper avenues to vocalise dissenting opinion and I encourage everyone to look into local organisations and groups that can help support causes where you feel women, or anyone else for that matter, are being oppressed or discriminated against because of an imposed dress code.

However as visitors to a country where the customs are to dress in a certain way, out of respect for the citizens it is our duty to comply. This is purely an issue of common human decency and respect.

Take Indonesia for example, a Muslim country where there is no dress code but there are many beautiful women of all ages who choose to wear hijabs and cloaks. They’re different to those in the middle east, known as jilbabs but nevertheless they do the same job. What they wear doesn’t stop them being who they want to be. They’ll still be all over facebook, they’ll still want to take and share selfies, they still find ways to demonstrate their individuality, it doesn’t stop them being themselves. I even noticed it here in Egypt, I watched a group of young girls some with bejewelled burqas, others in jeans and tshirts with long hair left loose and perfectly styled, dancing along the banks of the Nile, laughing, playing and having just the best time together.

In 2015 a story hit the headlines about a group of backpackers who stripped naked atop a Malaysian mountain, going against the requests of their guide not to do so. I remember feeling incredibly sad for the local communities there, who held this site as sacred and probably felt they were being mocked, what an offensive way to treat your hosts. I’ve heard all the arguments for their cause, but the bottom line is there was a specific requirement to wear clothing and this was purposely disobeyed for no other reason than entertainment. To be quite honest, I can’t understand why individuals would go out of their way to upset others just because they believe in something you don’t. I’ve previously discussed how the ultimate definition of specifically targeting someone with intention to hurt them, either physically or emotionally is in fact an act of terrorism.

 

The concept of freedom of choice.

Ah yes, freedom of choice. Before you assume that I am naive in my outlook on the world, I one hundred percent acknowledge that there are countries where women are not given the right to choose what they wear out in public. And I mentioned above that there are organisations and local groups around that you can speak to regarding helping to change these issues, only if change is necessary of course.

My whole reason for writing this post is to bring to light that although many, many westerners choose to judge and criticise these countries on their treatment of women, if they look upon Muslim women in their own countries they are treating them with the same level of disrespect. Banning headscarves in public buildings, schools, bullying those who wear them, outlawing burkinis (modest swimwear – basically a wetsuit) on beaches and at swimming pools.

I’m often faced with the ironic argument that we are not an Islamic country, we are Christian, yet there are members of the Christian faith who also cover their hair and where modest dress, orthodox, coptic, nuns? Some jewish women also follow certain criteria for dressing – again that includes hair covering. Sikh men wear turbans, Buddhists ask that you cover arms and legs before entering temples… and these are just a few examples of other religions who believe in the principles of modesty. Ever seen a painting of the Virgin Mary without a headscarf for example? There’s very few. Royalty are also advocates of modest dressing, they may not wear long cloaks or cover their hair but there is a certain standard of dressing they are expected to abide by as a mark of respect to the establishment they represent and it applies to both men and women.

So why has the problem of dressing modestly all of a sudden become a problem when its Muslims? When it comes to clothing, is freedom of choice here in the West purely for women who are not Muslim?

A few years ago I watched a scene unfold on the news which I never believed I would ever see. A group of armed policeman on a public beach in Nice, standing over a Muslim woman who was there with her children, modestly dressed in a long sleeve shirt and leggings being asked to remove her top. The beach was full, there were plenty of people around and the majority of them supported his decision to make this woman strip against her will. Right there with everyone watching.

 

 

I don’t care what you believe. I don’t care what you think of Muslims or any other religion for that matter. But for this woman she had chosen not to show her arms, she was being forced to strip against her will and fined too. Forget everything else you know about her. I ask you to just think as a woman, as a person, how would that have made you feel? How is that freedom of choice? Where’s the liberté and egalité in that? In this instance she wasn’t even wearing a burqa, she just happened to be wearing long sleeves, so was it the headscarf that was against the rules? It’s funny that oppression is frowned upon in a religious country but it appears secular oppression is perfectly acceptable.

Yes I am fully aware that I’ve mentioned this before, but the image of this scene is burned into my memory, as it should be with every person who believes that the West fully invests in women’s rights. The thought that this woman, a member of our global sisterhood, was put through public humiliation, bothers me deeply. And this is not an isolated incident by any stretch, there are many examples of women being forced to remove clothing and headscarves in public, I know of instances where its happened where I am in the UK.

There is plenty of discussion about the degradation of women in society, the whole Hollywood harassment fiasco and even men in politics and now charitable organisations are being pulled up on their treatment of women. So why is dressing modestly as a Muslim woman such an issue? Perhaps if we’re all completely honest, maybe it wouldn’t be, if we removed the word Muslim?? It’s very easy for us to sit here and point fingers at other countries for their so-called treatment of females but I would argue that the problems we face here are simply the other side of the same coin.

 

As we celebrate 100 years of women having been given the same rights of suffrage as me and all the freedoms they have fought for and won, I want to highlight that the struggle isn’t completely over until we act in the interests of ALL women, and not just when it serves a hidden political agenda.

This years International women’s day campaign is all about #PressforProgress: to not be complacent, to press forward and to progress gender parity. A strong call for us to act and be gender inclusive. I hope by defining the religious reasoning behind modest dress, by reminding us of our ability as humans to be inclusive and respectful, I have helped change the angle from which Muslim women are usually portrayed and to shed a bit of understanding on an issue which causes controversey from both sides.

 

I stand proudly with my sisters today and every day. Of all faiths, of all colours.

I stand with all of womankind.

 

Dedicated to all the strong women in my life, who have at some point been attacked either physically or verbally for the way they dress.

 

 

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